Thursday 21 July 2016

The Otherlife - Book Review

The Otherlife
Julia Gray
YA Contemporary  
UK Publisher: Anderson Press


Three years ago, Ben’s beloved tutor, Jason, died in myserteous circumstances. And he begins to wonder if his old friend Hobie had something to do with it…

I always get away with it when I try stuff like this. Partly it comes down to sort of assuming that I’m going to. I’ve got loads of confidence. And Loki got away with everything. Well, almost everything.

When troubled, quiet Ben begins at the ruthlessly competitive Cottesmore House, school to the richest, most privileged boys, he is befriended by Hobie: the wealthy class bully, product of monstrous indulgence and intense parental ambition.

Hobie is drawn to Ben because he can see the Otherlife: a violent, mythic place where Gods and Monsters roam. Ben has unnerving visions of Thor and Odin, and of the giant beasts that will destroy them, as well as Loki, God of mischief. Hobie is desperate to be part of it.

Years later, Ben discovers his beloved tutor, Jason, is dead. And he can’t help wondering if Hobie — wild, restless, dangerous Hobie, had something to do with it…


Such an incredible read! This book was really something else. Normally I detest contemporary stories but I found this one — with it’s undercurrent of norse mythology and otherworldly undertones — to be absolutely fantastic!

The author, Julia Gray, packs so much into this story. So much so, that I’m claiming this as my favourite book of 2016 so far.… Although it wasn't until I finished the book that I realised the picture on the front cover is actually a wolf. I thought it was just a pretty decoration.

Ben can see the Gods and monsters of old. Odin and Loki, Freya and Skoll, they hover at the end of his vision in ever moving shapes and colours. But now they have a message for Ben. His old tutor, Jason, is dead. And deep down, Ben knows it was his best friend, Hobie, who is to blame. 

Hobie is rich, spoiled and stressed out from the overbearing ambitions of his parents. When he befriends quiet, scholarship student Ben, his mind is opened to a world he never knew existed. The world of the otherlife. But Ben’s tales of Gods and Monsters are not enough to satisfy Hobie. He wants to witness the stories unfolding himself… and he will do anything to make it happen.

What started as something a little confusing, soon turned into a delicious, page-turning read. Told from two viewpoints, across two time periods, the story takes a few chapters to get into, but it is definitely worth the effort. 

In the beginning I found both Ben and Hobie sounded quite similar. It wasn't until I was about 20% in that I really began to distinguish them in my mind.

Ben is the more mystical (but strangely down to earth) character. Pressurised to do well at school, he also suffers the arguments of his recently divorced parents. He is the one who “invents” the Otherlife. Created from his fascination with Norse mythology and brought to life after an head injury, he makes the world of the Otherlife into a plausible thing. 

Amazingly, not once did I perceive Ben as crazy. I just accepted that he saw what he said he did. I believe this is one of the biggest things that made this book so brilliant. The seamless merge of fantasy and reality. 

In that way it reminded me a lot of Clare Furniss’ book - the year of the Rat. However fans of Sally Green’s Half Bad Trilogy, or anyone who just likes unique voices will enjoy this story. Although the divide between dreams and reality really blurred at the end of the book, and I couldn't help think THE OTHERLIFE turned a little Alice in Wonderland on us. In a good way of course.

Then there was Hobie. He was incredibly interesting in his thoughts and I loved his view of the world. A very layered character. He’s the sort of person you hate in real life but love to read about. He brought such emotional depth to the story. 

The only element of the book I didn't like was both Hobie’s and Ben’s parents. They were so selfish, and a little stupid. Of course the story was told from the perspective of two twelve-year-old boys, but I often agreed with them that their parents were crazy. Yet at the same time, I understand that some parents can generally be that overbearing. Everyone has/knows someone who had strict/protective/ambitious parents.

Otherwise, I adored how much Julia Gray squeezed into this book. It explores the issues of addictions, eating disorders, over indulgence, divorce and so much more. Everything slotted naturally into the plot and felt like it belonged. The writing wasn't preachy, it simply made the reader aware that such problems exist. 

The plot also held a lot of mystery. As a reader there was so many questions that I wanted answers to, and I’m pleased to say the end wrapped everything up in a nice big bow. The story came full circle, although it was quite sad - but satisfyingly so. I can’t imagine the book ending any other way.

Overall - I really loved this book. I do however think it will be something you will either really like, or really hate depending on how you perceive the characters. For me, the underlining story of the Norse Gods made this book really special. A truly beautiful piece of fiction.

 I generally can’t believe this is a debut book. I’m eager to read whatever Julia Gray writes next. 

I give THE OTHERLIFE 5 stars!

Tuesday 5 July 2016

As Black As Ebony - Book Review

As Black As Ebony - Book Review
Salla Simukka
YA Thriller
Lumikki Andersson #3
UK Publisher: Hot Key Books

Other books in the series:

As Red As Blood #1 - Review HERE
As White As Snow #2 - Review HERE


Lumikki has a new boyfriend — easygoing, gorgeous Sampsa — but she is unfaithful in her dreams, longing for the electrifying touch of her ex, Blaze.

Then  the threats start arriving, from someone who seems to know Lumikki intimately. Sharing her fears risks deadly consequences; now she is more alone than ever.

When Blaze suddenly reappears, Lumikki is torn. She can’t deny the chemistry between them, but can she trust him? To stop the killer, Lumikki must uncover a dark secret that has haunted her family for years. 


This is the last book of the Lumikki Andersson trilogy, and for such a short novel, Salla Simukka really packs a lot of punch into each page. With beautiful prose, lots fairytale references and a very unpredictable plot line, I felt this trilogy was brought to a stunning conclusion.

A few months after her trip to Prague, Lumikki is now back in Poland and is at last settling into a normal high school life. She has a new boyfriend, new friends, and has somehow landed the starring role in the school play. Yet her past continues to haunt her. Surfacing in her dreams each night through broken memories.

Then she receives a letter. She is being watched. And her new stalker knows the truth about Lumikki’s childhood. The childhood Lumikki herself has forgotten. Now with tasks hidden behind thinly veiled threats, Lumikki is forced to meet her stalkers demands. She must unlock her memories. But all she can recall is one little girl, and lots of blood…

This was such a good book. The writing is uniquely beautiful, full of flowery sentences but brushed with darker undertones. Like thorns hiding beneath pretty petals, each word morphs together to paint vivid yet often melancholy scenes. A truly fantastic and spellbinding story.

As with the first two books, I was drawn to Lumikki’s character. Her strong survival instincts, her quick thinking and generally passive attitude toward others. She is not your typical teenager. However I did think she came across as a little different in this book.

In the previous stories Lumikki seemed more sure-footed and rational. Then again she was mostly dealing with other peoples problems. Yet in this third and final book Lumikki undergoes a mental journey, which made her appear more fragile. She couldn't stay dispassionate about her own life, and this newfound rashness was clear in each of her choices. However Lumikki was still a kick-ass-heroine. 

In terms of other characters, I was pleased we finally got to meet Blaze outside of a flashback. I love that Lumikki’s first love was with a transgender girl, and really thought this unconventional (but awesome) romance epitomised Lumikki’s personality.

I also liked the contrast Sampsa (Lumikki’s current boyfriend) provided. He is the opposite of everything Lumikki has known and I was happy to see Lumikki with someone so loving. 

However even with a small cast of only seven or eight characters, I was never able to work out who the stalker was. Huge kudos to Salla Simukka for all those red herrings! When the culprit was revealed I was totally surprised and this really made the book doubly enjoyable. Generally I’m really good at figuring out the “who done it?” stories - it was nice to be stumped for once.

Otherwise the biggest thing that drove this book forward was the plot. For the past two books, there has always been a hint of Lumkki’s dark past. Now in this final instalment we finally get to see that past revealed. 

Simply put, it was a great read. Everything was tidied up nicely and no box was left un-ticked. A truly satisfying conclusion.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed this series. Although each book is pretty short, each is packed with so much story that it’s just the perfect length. These are great books for anyone looking for a quick, action packed read. Fans of Holly Black or Melissa Meyer, this is definitely a trilogy you should check out.

4 stars!